BoondoggleThe Sun Oct. 14 carried an analysis...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Boondoggle

The Sun Oct. 14 carried an analysis article under the headline "State, city worked together to develop housing plan" that discussed the cooperation that resulted in a $293.6 million proposal to demolish and replace 1,116 units of public housing.

Your analysts (certainly they are not reporters) missed the real story, which is that state, city and federal employees are conspiring to bilk the taxpayers of the city, state and country to build public housing at the cost of over $250,000 per dwelling unit. (The figure takes in to account an overly generous estimate of $10 million for demolition costs.)

Rather than congratulations, it appears that you should have been calling for a grand jury investigation, and firing or impeachment of incompetent and/or corrupt officials that were involved.

It is mind-boggling how anyone can seriously propose to spend more for a public housing unit than the majority of employed, hard-working citizens can afford to pay for a house of their own; particularly when it takes virtually no imagination or originality to arrive at alternative approaches that would cost far less and have a better chance of not having to be torn down in the future.

Buying available housing in the city is one way. A for-profit builder could create an attractive townhouse project with a lower population density than the bureaucrats' project for about $75,000 per dwelling unit. That cost assumes a lack of unreasonable government interference, with such interference the cost could be up to $25,000 per unit higher.

It is not too late to stop this outrageously wasteful boondoggle. Hopefully The Sun will atone for its oversight and take the lead in stopping this and other projects that are grossly wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

Maclyn McCarty Jr.

Baltimore

Too Insightful

How far did you have to go to find an African-American writer who would serve as a detractor to Toni Morrison the day after she won the Nobel Prize?

Did you search for a source who would call Nadine Gordimer "a middle brow fiction writer" or disqualify Nelly Sachs the day after the committee found her qualified? No wonder African-American writers have felt the need to step forward en masse and defend this jewel of their own.

If Toni Morrison were of white European ancestry, her vision, historical perspective and definitively North American bent on magical realism would have required no further qualification.

As the recipient of the prize itself, she would have been heralded as yet another notch on the belt of the American literary establishment.

The fact is Toni Morrison is too insightful an American for the Americans. It is for this reason that we have lost our greatest black novelists, poets, dancers and musicians to countries that celebrate the talents of those artists, when their own country restricts them to the periphery of this American culture, which is as much about "jazz" as it is about cowboys.

Maureen Martindale

Baltimore

Encyclical

I found myself puzzled after reading George Weigel's Opinion * Commentary piece on Pope John Paul II's new encyclical, "Veritatis Splendor" ("The Right of Being Able to Do What We Ought," Oct. 8).

Mr. Weigel starts out by praising the encyclical for its so-called "Christian humanism" and its assertion that humans can answer difficult moral questions "not by rote submission to religious authoritarianism, but because human beings have the capacity to discern the truth of things and the ability to act on that discernment." So far, this all sounds perfectly reasonable to me. But then Mr. Weigel turns around and blames society's ills on what he calls "moral relativism." When have morals ever been anything other than relative? Morality is defined by individuals and by the communities in which they live.

The concept of morality differs from culture to culture, and it changes with time.

In the Bible, it says that if a woman goes to help her husband during a fight and inadvertently touches his attacker's private parts, "then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her." Would we consider such punishment moral in 20th century America? I certainly hope not.

Just a century ago, slavery was socially sanctioned in this country. Clearly, morality has to change over time if society is to ,, grow and mature.

The pope can safely condemn murder as evil -- nobody will argue with that -- but many people today would take issue with him when he labels birth control as "sinful." So if Pope John Paul II and George Weigel truly believe in "Christian humanism," they should be prepared for humans to decide in their own hearts what is moral and what is not.

John Clayton

Columbia

No Abortions

I appreciate your publishing the lengthy article by Sandy Banisky, "Arson at Planned Parenthood clinic stuns many in tranquil Pa. county" (Oct. 11).

An error appeared, however, when Ms. Banisky described it as ". . . the third arson attack on an abortion clinic in ten days . . ."

The attack instead was on a Planned Parenthood affiliate which does not provide abortions. This Pennsylvania affiliate provides full reproductive health care services, e.g., gynecological yearly checks, contraceptive care, screening for cervical and breast cancer as well as for sexually transmitted diseases, plus treatment and counseling services.

In all fairness to Ms. Banisky, she goes on to acknowledge that the ". . . Planned Parenthood clinic doesn't even do abortions."

There are many affiliates which limit their services just as the Lancaster affiliate does. Many people seem confused on this point and stereotype all affiliates as abortion clinics.

Barbara H. Weinbaum

Lutherville

Colvista Jobs

On the same editorial page of Oct. 14, Linda Eisenberg of the Maryland Food Committee says in a letter that welfare reform is a sham and the problem with welfare is jobs, while The Sun's editorial position is "Standing Firm against Colvista."

Colvista means 3,000 new homes in Baltimore County. If the average Colvista home, conservatively, will cost $100,000, that means $300 million.

Do you understand what $300 million means in jobs, engineering, cement, washers, dryers, refrigerators, roofs, lumber, windows, landscaping and so on?

And 3,000 homes at a $1,000-a-year tax bill will produce $3 million a year ad infinitum. That pays for a lot of teachers, firemen and police jobs.

Certainly the watershed must be protected, and a share of that $300 million will do that.

You still don't get it: "It's jobs, stupid."

C. Chavatel Jr.

Hunt Valley

Misguided Gun Battle

In their Oct. 11 letter to the editor, "Deadly Epidemic of Handguns in Maryland," Drs. Oski, Wilson, Haller and Ms. Martin of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center state: "Because Maryland legislators and special interest groups find childhood motor vehicle deaths intolerable, we have legislation that says .. our kids must be protected by seat belts and child restraints, we keep our speed limit at a safer 55 mph, and we teach children how to be good pedestrians and bike riders."

We don't ban automobiles or restrict access to them to reduce deaths of children as a result of legal operation of automobiles.

We don't believe that automobiles cause accidents. We recognize that operator use of automobiles in an unlawful or unsafe manner is the contributor to injury among innocent passengers and bystanders.

Those who fail to operate a motor vehicle safely or lawfully may have that privilege removed (and often even then do not), but we exercise no prior restraint just because someone might get hurt.

The doctors go on, "It is time the Maryland General Assembly becomes just as humane and concerned about the tragedies caused by irresponsible and uncontrolled use of handguns."

Well, wait a minute. The Maryland General Assembly has been quite diligent in making sure that there are laws on the books that punish the "irresponsible and uncontrolled use of handguns." The existing statutes cover that territory quite nicely, for firearms and for motor vehicles too, for that matter. . .

The physicians at Johns Hopkins have allied themselves with Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse in the coalition formed to pressure the General Assembly into passing ". . . comprehensive gun control legislation, including a requirement that prospective gun purchasers obtain a permit from the police before they can buy a handgun."

Perhaps the doctors are not aware that there is a waiting period law in Maryland that requires a dealer to submit all handgun purchases to the State Police for a nominal seven-day period before transferring the handgun to the prospective buyer.

During that period, the State Police may deny the application if there is legal cause to do so. Clearly such legislation as that the coalition proposes, besides being largely redundant, is not directly related to the cause of the injuries that these doctors see at the Hopkins Children's Center.

How did these firearms injuries occur? Were they accidental -- the result of criminal negligence on the part of citizen firearms owners?

Likely not. Did you know that in 1990 (the latest year for which complete figures are available) there were no -- none, zilch -- accidental firearms deaths among children 14 and younger in Maryland?

Did you know that the trend of accidents involving firearms has been decreasing for decades, in Maryland and nationwide (by over 55 percent in the last 15 years), while firearms ownership has been dramatically increasing?

And oh, by the way, did the Hopkins letter writers know that that same year, 1990, the number of accidental firearms deaths in Maryland (three) was outstripped by over 20 to 1 by 65 deaths euphemistically termed "medical mishap"?

OK, so what were the causes of these shootings? Of the 22 "children" treated at Hopkins, how many were males between the ages of 16 and 19?

Do we really consider as children, in this context, someone who is potentially old enough to drive a car, fight for their country, drink beer in some states, or vote?

And most important, how many of these "children" were shot while engaged in, proximate to, or as a result of other illegal activities ?

The doctors claim, somewhat contradictorily, "We don't claim to know all the causes of violence." Yet they can unequivocally assert that "one cause is certainly easy access to handguns."

One does not expect doctors to know all (or any) of the causes of violence. One does expect criminologists to -- and they, even when initially biased against firearms, have consistently determined, through peer-reviewed studies, that firearms do not cause violence, and that firearms prohibition and victim disarmament do not deter violence. . .

Such arguments, while increasingly common, carry no force. There is nothing that says that a doctor's uninformed opinion on firearms is of any greater weight than that of any other uninformed citizen.

The good doctors are certainly entitled to their individual opinions and views. But when they use the weight of a great medical institution to somehow give credence to an unrelated (and largely misguided) campaign, they are no longer exercising an individual right to free speech, but are instead (mal)practicing the worst kind of authoritarian deception.

John C. Taylor

Columbia

How to Protect Our Communities From Bad Neighbors

Several articles and editorials have recently appeared in The Sun which deserve public notice and comment.

On Sept. 19, Michael Olesker wrote about the efforts of North East Regional Tenant Community Association to fight decline in their neighborhoods caused by people, largely newcomers to the area, who "don't care about anything."

On the following day, Melody Simmons reported on the frustration of people in Waverly who have not been able to deal effectively with neighbors whose undisciplined children start fires in alleys, pull up flowers, shrubs and fences and jump on parked cars.

On Oct. 1, an editorial described the "guerrilla wars" being fought between those who are committed a clean (e.g. rat-free), aesthetic (e.g. flower gardens), orderly (e.g. regular sleep) way of life and those who seem equally dedicated to its destruction.

As one of those on the front lines in this war, I applaud The Sun for bringing this situation to light. We must judge people by their behavior, no matter what their culture, race or economic class.

It is impossible to underestimate the effect because, as the Sept. 20 article noted, these are the reasons people leave the city. They leave when their lives are so disrupted that they can no longer function as decent human beings.

I have a friend (who lives in a distant neighborhood) whose block has experienced three murders in three years, yet he will not move.

Whatever troubles his block has, they have not affected him personally. But when rats roam his back yard because of trash strewn in the alley, when his flower boxes are routinely vandalized or when he cannot sleep because of loud music at 3 a.m., he will, after a protracted and enervating fight, most certainly move.

Two things are worth noting. These problems are caused by a tiny minority of the people in our neighborhoods, yet we (neighborhood people and city agencies) seem incapable of dealing effectively with those who cause the trouble. Second, as Mr. Olesker's column pointed out, highlighting these problems is not racially motivated.

As someone who lives in a "changing" neighborhood, it is very clear that the problems are caused by people of all races.

Further, one of the most serious negative consequences is that the first group to leave a block which is experiencing these effects are the quality renters of every race, culture and economic class.

So, what is to be done? What exactly do we expect the mayor to do? What can we reasonably expect the city to do?

First, we must recognize that this is not a simple problem. There are several symptoms, a number of underlying causes, and a variety of potential solutions, some of which are long-term, some short and some dead ends. Meanwhile, we must begin.

As a starting point, I suggest the following:

* Begin with education of our children. Develop a comprehensive "citizenship" element in the curriculum which stresses the need for proper sanitation, an aesthetic environment, etc. Children are our future and they are not learning citizenship at home; they also may be able to positively influence their parents.

* Use vigorously all facets of the new sanitation laws that were passed last year, including going after landlords whose tenants are causing problems.

* Give priority of subsidized housing certificates to the working poor. Working people of all classes understand the need for regular sleep.

* Use negative incentives to discourage irresponsible absentee ownership of city properties and positive incentives to encourage responsible local ownership.

* Encourage local or non-profit rental property management.

* Convene a group of community leaders, homeowners, landlords and representatives of city agencies (public works, housing inspection, Section 8 office, police, etc.) involved in these problems to develop ideas which would actually work and could be implemented in a sensible way.

Ed Rutkowski

Baltimore

The writer is coordinator of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Initiative.

Why Maryland's Circuit Court Judges Are Superior

Merit selection of judges has given the citizens of Maryland a bench far superior to many of its sister states. To suggest otherwise, as Victor Crawford did (letter, Oct. 9), is contrary to the evidence.

For the last 23 years, 13 citizens comprised of six lay members, six lawyers and the chair, who can be either a lay person or a lawyer, have selected the trial judges in each state judicial district. Another commission, with the same composition, selects appellate judges.

The lawyers are selected by their peers and the lay people by the governor. The chair is also selected by the governor. This cross-section of the community has brought to the governor list after list of highly qualified candidates for the state judiciary.

To state that there is a dearth of candidates is in error. For example, today there are seven "pool" candidates, that is, rTC candidates who made the Baltimore City Commission list, eligible for one year to be selected by the governor for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

From that list, the governor picked Judge Carol Smith, formerly a District Court judge in Baltimore City. And, at present, there are 29 candidates for the District Court seat vacated by Judge Smith.

A dearth of candidates? I think not.

To state that the lawyers "have effectively taken over" the merit selection process appears to be gentrified lawyer-bashing a la Dan Quayle. It also demeans the respected professionals that the governors appoint, who serve, on a volunteer basis, as lay members.

In addition, the lay members bring a fresh look and a new perspective to their questions to both the lawyers and the prospective judicial candidates.

In the over 10 years I have served on the Baltimore City Commission, I have learned something at each meeting. Perhaps it is a better interview question. Or it might be a fact that the commission's investigation turned up. Or it might be a lay person's skepticism over the temperament of a candidate who I support.

While reviewing the process, it is important to note that a commission meeting is not monolithic. To label it so, one would have to presume two things:

(1) The lawyers all agree; and (2) the lay members buy what the lawyers are selling.

Neither is true. The commission receives input from the Maryland State Bar Association, the county or city bar associations, the Women's Bar Association of Maryland and other specialty bar associations, such as the Monumental Bar Association and the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys.

Now, these entities may not agree with each other, and the commission is free to agree or disagree with their views. All these votes are reviewed and any letters presented on behalf of the candidates.

The candidates are interviewed, in person, and their references are thoroughly checked. This process allows the maximum input in order that the list to be sent to the governor has been thoroughly reviewed and discussed.

The notion of the confidentiality of commission deliberations has its genesis in the commission's concern that if an earlier not qualified candidate is later found to be qualified, that candidate may well not treat the lawyer or his or her clients even-handedly in a courtroom. This, too, has happened.

The "federal solution" is not institutionalized and changes depending on the party in the White House and the inclination of the senator making the recommendations to the White House.

At present, there is no nominating commission for federal judgeships. The nominations are made by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., to the White House and the Justice Department.

The Justice Department then submits those names to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for rating as well-qualified, qualified or not qualified.

If it isn't broke, don't fix it. Merit selection has brought Maryland a first-class judiciary which is the envy of many states in this

nation. If you don't think so, ask a lawyer in a state where there is no merit selection and judges are often picked only because of the number of votes they can garner and not because they have ever had a client or tried a case.

Peter F. Axelrad

Baltimore

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